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Classical Notes

Giving the viola some respect

Posted at 10:33 AM on April 25, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Composers, Concerts, Fun finds

The viola is the instrument musicians love to tease — so much so, that there is an entire category of jokes about them. Classical MPR's Steve Staruch is a violist, but he loves viola jokes. There's a German expression, Was sich liebt, das neckt sich — "Those who love each other, tease each other"; in other words, teasing is a sign of affection. So here are three displays of affection for the viola:

How can you tell when a violist is playing out of tune?
The bow is moving.

What's the difference between a viola and an onion?
No one cries when you cut up a viola.

Why don't violists play hide and seek?
Because no one will look for them.

Amusing as that last joke is, the reality, of course, is different. Music benefactors Linda and Stuart Nelson deliberately sought out violist Paul Neubauer and offered to commission a new work for him, and Neubauer thought, "Why not a viola concerto, and why not have Aaron Jay Kernis write that viola concerto?"

The resulting work received its world premiere with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra just last night (Thursday, April 24), and a new video released by the SPCO takes viewers inside Kernis's new Viola Concerto, from both the composer's and musician's points of view.

In the video, Kernis says his new concerto is "uniquely tailored for Paul and the viola" because Neubauer "draws so many beautiful colors out of the instrument." Over the course of the nearly seven-minute video, Kernis and Neubauer provide a sort of hop-on/hop-off tour of the work, discussing each movement and its influences and inspirations.

"I hope audiences have a very strong reaction to this piece," Kernis says, "and [I] hope that it will find its way out in the world with such an amazing soloist and wonderful musician at its center."

Neubauer adds, "I hope 20 years from now, this becomes a staple of the [viola] repertoire."

Watch the video to learn more about this new piece. The SPCO and Neubauer will perform it again tonight and tomorrow, April 25 and 26, at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul.

What do you think of this new work? Did you attend the concert? Are you planning to attend one of them this weekend? Share your thoughts in the comments below.